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Allelopathic Impacts of Cover Crop Species and Termination Timing on Cotton Germination and Seedling Growth

The integration of cover crops into cotton (Gossypium hirsutum, L.) production remains challenging. One potential negative impact of cover crops on cotton is allelopathy. Proper selection of cover crop species and termination timing could potentially reduce the impacts of allelopathy on cotton seedlings. Two studies were conducted to determine cotton germination and growth sensitivity to cover crop leachate, which were measured using (I) five cover crops species, including: oats (Avena sativa L.), hairy vetch (Vicia Villosa), winter pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), winter wheat (Triticum aestivum), and annual rye (Lolium multiflorum), and (II) a blend of cover crops at four termination timings, including: at planting, three weeks prior to planting, six weeks prior to planting, and a split termination, where a 25 cm band in the top of the bed was terminated six weeks prior to planting, and the remaining cover crop was terminated at planting (referred to as strip 6-wk). Samples for Experiment I were collected on May 24th and for Experiment II on March 22nd (Strip/6-wk and 6-wk), April 30th (3-wk), and May 11th (at planting) in 2018. The effect of 0 (deionized water), 25, and 50 (v/v) cover crop leachate extract on cotton seed germination was evaluated in a series of controlled environmental studies. All cover crop species’ leachates negatively impacted cotton germination and seedling growth (p < 0.05). Germination inhibition rates declined numerically by species, with winter pea ≥ hairy vetch ≥ oats ≥ annual rye ≥ winter wheat at the 50 v/v concentrations. Winter pea germination inhibition on cotton equaled 47.0% and cotton radicle length was decreased by 62.8%. Termination at planting suppressed cotton germination more than the other termination timings, with the 50 v/v treatment resulting in a germination inhibition of 60.0%. Proper selection of cover crop species and termination timing prior to planting cotton will be critical in maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of a cover crop.

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